My darling wife and I married 6 years ago in August, on a perfect late winter’s afternoon. We met 3 playful years before this day and had worked toward marriage like you would pursue a great prize you eagerly desired. But it wasn’t until one month after the cake had been cut and our heartfelt vows were shared that I finally awoke to the significance of the decision I had made.
Our first real fight was on the meaning of love, ironically enough. I had thought we were just playing around at first, but then I saw tears roll down my bride’s face and my playful teasing turned to concerned distress. We argued all through our honeymoon-like breakfast, and all through our picturesque car ride to my office. We stayed in the car long enough for me to be late to work, and then picked up that evening where we’d left off that morning. That conflict was only the first of many waves of pain we’ve since learned to face and endure together.
It seemed to me that out of that conversation arrived bags of pain from the unspoken past I’d never invited for the ride. Lies about self-worth, disappointment, frustration, fear and loss. I thought at first it was only Renee’s baggage we were dealing with, but it wasn’t long until my own shame was triggered and I began practising the art of disconnection, allowing my pride and need for validation to be mentored by my fears. I pursued my work, whilst my wife pursued my attention and affection. But in our times together we knew we lacked the joy we longed to abide in.
Marriage is not suffering.
Life is suffering. And Marriage is like a beautiful mirror which stands before us at eye level, through which we see ourselves and our pain more clearly than before. We carry our pain wherever we go, often tied to a chain metres behind us, out of view from the world. But when we marry, we lift up our baggage into the shared cart of our joint lives and we bear this load together. So in this enigmatic exchange, we take on the pain of another, and in turn we are able to share our own sorrows. So now we carry more suffering, yet the door opens to us for greater connection.
If only I understood this better at the time that connection was the goal of our relationship, and that the quality of our relationships defines the quality of our lives. I certainly would have spent less time designing spreadsheets and invested more time into refining my character and tackling my fears.
My issue at the beginning of our marriage was that I’d never taken time to understand my pain. I had convinced myself with lip-service that I had “surrendered my brokenness to the Lord”. But how could I surrender what I did not understand?! And equally, I had been so amazed by Renee’s beauty that I overlooked her cries for me to see and understand her own pain.
For 5 long and challenging years, Renee and I danced to the oscillating melodies of connection and disconnection. We said and did things to each other that we now regret, and we learned to ‘cope’ with our disconnection by compensating with other pursuits and indulgences.
At some stage last year, one of us decided to do what it took within ourselves, no matter the time or the cost, and grow into the spouse we wished to be. In many ways this was Renee, and in many ways this was me, but as one of us changed, it forced the other to adjust to the new space around them, like two liquids in a ball. We had no singular turning point, except that now when we look ahead together we know our direction has corrected from where it once was headed. We’re more committed than ever before to our vows and to our early intentions, and we understand the cost of our covenant ever more clearly.
We are still learning daily the art of love and trying desperately to understand this great gravity that draws our souls towards each other.
In a world full of disconnection and loss, we need hope as our anchor and our heart longs for examples to light our way. The light of many beautiful couples and mentors have shone ahead of us already and we hope that we too can shine for others. So I encourage you, in whatever relationship you find yourself thinking on as you read this, to be encouraged and emboldened. Carry your cross daily and take stock of that which you carry. There is a light ahead of us and that light is the true light of life, that if you seek it you shall find it. And that light will guide you through the greatest journey you could imagine.
I am a marriage survivor, and am loving the rocky ride.
Key thoughts from this blog were inspired by:
– Jordan Peterson’s enthralling work on understanding suffering
– Esther Perel’s refreshing focus on the centricity of relationships in our lives
– ‘Polaroids’, a beautiful short monologue within Donald Miller’s book “Blue Like Jazz”
– My beautiful wife Renee and the road we’ve journey thus far